Updated at 11:39 a.m. ET, Friday, July 22
Pro Football Weekly has learned that the players did not cast a vote on Thursday's ownership proposal to end the lockout — one that elicited cheers from team owners following a 31-0 vote in Atlanta — because the NFLPA leadership said it had not seen the entire contents of the deal.
The players' association informed its club representatives on a conference call that lasted more than 90 minutes that it hoped to go over the latest deal the NFL owners passed before planning its next move.
NFLPA president Kevin Mawae released a statement Friday morning saying that the players' association would not issue any statements for the rest of the day out of respect for Myra Kraft, wife of Patriots owner Robert Kraft, whose funeral service is being held in Boston. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, several NFLPA officials and several team owners were attending the services.
Smith informed those on the call that he had not received the contents of the deal, but would look at the details after receiving it, working late into Thursday night and beyond, to make sure that there were no inconsistencies with what the owners' previous offers had been.
Late Thursday night, NFLPA sources indicated they had finally received a copy of the latest offer from the league and planned to scour the details before taking next significant action.
NFLPA counsel Richard Berthelsen sent out an email to player reps prior to the call, outlining the process that would need to happen for the group to recertify as a union. The proposal included the demand from the NFL that the NFLPA must prove it had indeed recertified as a union by July 26, which would be followed by a vote to ratify a brand new CBA soon thereafter.
But that was only procedural information, not a complete and formal CBA proposal; what the NFLPA would not accept was that the NFL had asked that the old CBA terms be in place until the ownership accepted the would-be union's course.
"I am here to tell you that there is no deal," Smith told the listeners of the call, one of them told PFW, echoing what Smith wrote in an email earlier in the day following the owners' ratification vote.
Smith made it clear to the players on the call that he had not seen anything concrete and that he wanted to go over the owners' most recent offer to see if any changes had been made. The final mediated session involving Smith and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell happened sometime Friday morning. There were a few delays in the owners' meetings that, sources said, were held up for calls between Smith and Goodell.
The source on the call indicated that Smith attempted to rally the players and understand what exactly had happened earlier in the day. He also tried to instill a sense of calm and a timeline that differed from that of the owners', saying that "no one should feel like they are being rushed" into a deal. Smith told his players he would inform them in short order, within hours, of any new developments.
It appears that the two sides have agreed on nearly all of the key economic issues, which have been in place for a week or so, and that apparently has not changed. The union now has a three-pronged approach towards getting an agreement: They must agree to the economic terms; settle the remaining litigation; and take the procedural steps needed to reconstitute the union.
Smith took time to further explain Berthelsen's email — most notably the part where he suggested the owners' actions could be construed as unlawful. Smith said the NFLPA has looked closely at what entails reformation of the union and that the process the owners have proposed would not work. Because the NFLPA believes this is a critical piece to the puzzle, it would not allow its members to vote on it by email or phone, preferring to do it in person.
Another chief procedural problem: The matter of a non-union agreeing to terms of a collectively bargained agreement. This is how Smith explained the matter as being unlawful to the callers.
But the tone of the call — despite a few rallying cries from players who felt like the owners had deceived them badly on Thursday — was that the NFLPA leadership was continuing to find a way to work towards a deal. That means more negotiations through Friday and perhaps the weekend. Smith might use the threat of unlawful practice against the owners, but sources say he also needs to ponder this latest offer and digest what all it entails.
If there are inconsistencies, it could lead to trouble. On the call, sources say, Smith painted a worst-case scenario of missed games and negotiations perhaps not coming to completion until midway through what would have been the 2011 regular season. But he also sounded resolute that the two sides, ultimately, could remain on track for a deal with football relatively uninterrupted.
"I believe in the process," sources report Smith saying more than once on the call. The question now is whether that process leads to a new CBA now or in what could be the distant future.